JEFFERSON CITY — As state officials work to roll out a medical marijuana program in Missouri, law enforcement officials appear to be keeping watch.
According to documents obtained by the Post-Dispatch, the state’s main purchasing agency met June 21 with representatives from the FBI to review the process used by the state to buy goods and services.
The meeting was described by the Office of Administration as “an educational program” on all state purchasing for the FBI’s benefit and not an investigation into the fledgling pot program.
“The Office of Administration has not been interviewed by the FBI about the medical marijuana program,” the office said in a statement.
The documents include a 21-page presentation outlining the often dry and bureaucratic bidding process typically used to select all state contractors.
A spokeswoman for the FBI confirmed the meeting, but would not say if it was related to medical marijuana.
“It is generally not our practice to comment on any of the specifics of a meeting,” said Bridget Patton of the agency’s Kansas City office. “It’s not uncommon for us to meet with different counterparts at different levels of government.”
The meeting, however, appears to be the first of its kind between OA and the FBI in at least eight years.
Missouri became the 33rd state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes after 65% of voters in November approved Amendment 2, starting a stampede of business owners looking to capitalize on the new market.
Sales of the various forms of the products are to start early next year and are expected to top $100 million by 2025. Tax proceeds and licensing fees are supposed to go into a new veterans health care fund, and are expected to generate about $20 million a year.
The FBI arrived in the halls of state government as the state continued its work to get the program up and running. There already have been challenges to the bidding process involving politically connected lobbyists and out-of-state businesses vying for multimillion-dollar contracts.
Data released by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services earlier this month shows that business owners want to open at least 137 businesses that grow marijuana, make infused products, and sell both across St. Louis city and six surrounding counties.
The state won’t accept formal applications until Aug. 3, but has allowed groups to pay the associated fees — $10,000 to grow marijuana, $6,000 to make or sell it, as well as to sell infused products. Missouri had raked in nearly $3.9 million in fees from 543 preapplications statewide as of Tuesday.
There has been squabbling over some of the contracts.
In May, Gov. Mike Parson’s administration denied a protest by Florida-based BioTrackTHC, which said the state should not have awarded a contract to a competitor in April because it could contain hidden costs.
The winner of the estimated $5 million contract, Metrc, is tasked with registering patients, licensing facilities and tracking marijuana from seed to sale.
BioTrackTHC suggested Metrc, also of Florida, was able to submit a lower bid to the state because it would charge additional fees to growers and dispensaries.
In rejecting the protest, the state said its contract with Metrc does not allow the company to charge additional fees.
As part of its bid to land the state contract, BioTrackTHC hired lobbyist Steve Tilley, a former speaker of the Missouri House, who co-sponsored a fundraiser for the governor in May.
A political action committee linked to Parson has collected at least $15,000 in campaign contributions from a group seeking to open a medical marijuana growing facility near Tilley’s hometown of Perryville.
Jack Cardetti, spokesman for the Missouri Cannabis Trade Association, said it is encouraging that law enforcement officials are familiarizing themselves with the state’s purchasing system.
“Oversight and transparency in this area, we believe, is good for Missouri and the industry,” Cardetti said.
For now, DHSS is set to accept business applications Aug. 3-17. The state expects to start licensing businesses in December. Applicants need hundreds of thousands in cash and must describe details of their business plans, including odor control, security and economic impact.